A rapid test for foot-and-mouth disease will be studied at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine, in cooperation with USDA. At the same time, researchers will evaluate a classical swine fever test.

Beginning this spring, researchers will test cattle and hogs with new assays to determine the two tests' accuracy in populations of disease-free animals. "We're testing a test, not testing for disease," says Garry Adams, the College of Veterinary Medicine's associate dean for research and graduate studies. "The United States is currently free of these diseases, and such technological advances will improve our ability to respond to a foreign animal disease crisis should one develop."

USDA's Agriculture Research Service is funding the $750,000 study through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Scientists from ARS, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Texas A&M are collaborating.

At the moment, foot-and-mouth disease tests may only be performed at the U.S. Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. The confirmation methods involve virus isolation– a procedure that, while accurate, may take up to a week to collect, ship to and secure results from Plum Island. New, rapid, field tests would enable officials to quickly detect and stop disease spread.

In 2001, a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom caused an estimated $4.9 billion (U.S. dollars) loss to its agriculture industry. A comparative loss to the U.S. agricultural industry at the time would have equalled $9 billion, researchers say, due to export losses and eradication expenses.

The new experimental testing procedures will use "real-time" polymerase chain-reaction technology to identify genetic material specific to viruses that cause foot and mouth and classical swine fever. No active foot-and-mouth virus will be used in Texas.

"Such procedures can give results in less than an hour, and could be modified to test livestock on location during outbreak situations," says Adams.

The Texas study is important because polymerase chain reaction-based tests sometimes yield positive results when the sought-form disease is not present. Positive reactions may be caused by non-disease organisms in the environment that have similar genetic material to the disease being tested, Adams explains.

"Our role is to determine the extent that non-pathogenic organisms will interfere with the function of new diagnostic tests," he says. 

To accomplish this, researchers will collect nasal and blood samples from more than 2,000 healthy cattle and swine to test with these new assays. Samples will be tested at Texas A&M, and to Plum Island for any necessary confirmation tests.

Source: Texas A&M University
Source URL: http://agnews.tamu.edu/dailynews/stories/AGPR/Mar0104c.htm